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Economic and dam related articles

Finding the Right Path
to Our Energy Future

by Dick Adams
The Oregonian, October 26, 2009

We often forget that despite all our hydropower, the Northwest gets nearly a quarter of its electricity from dirty coal plants. Those plants now account for nearly 90 percent of the power system's global-warming emissions. You can't see it, but behind the scenes, electricity powers it all. To ensure that this invisible but essential commodity is available every hour of every day, utility planners are at the perpetual drawing board looking for new sources of clean, affordable electricity. Despite the current recession, the demand for electricity is growing. Policy-makers, utility planners and energy consumers face unprecedented challenges as we discover the best options to meet the region's growing power demand and our environmental goals.

The Northwest is ahead of the game. Hydropower meets 50 percent of our region's needs, giving us the lowest carbon footprint in the nation. New renewable resources, primarily wind farms, will meet one-third of our growing energy needs. Already national leaders in energy conservation, Northwest utilities plan to double or triple spending on conservation, making it our number one priority. For almost two years utility planners have been working side by side with the Northwest Power Planning Council as it updates its regional energy plan.

The Oregonian's editorial board recently applauded the power council's plan for its focus on conservation and renewable resources. I agree. But some folks think the plan doesn't go far enough. They want coal completely out of the picture. The council's plan includes other valuable insights into our energy future. Its plan helps us understand the trade-offs and consequences on a wide range of public policy decisions facing our region, including the effects of new emissions policies.

While we need to push even harder to reduce the environmental impact of our energy system, our future plans must maintain the dependability of the system. The current transition to new sources of electricity won't happen overnight and requires significant investments to capture energy savings, hone new technologies, make the grid "smarter" and provide transmission capacity to move power from often-remote renewable generation sites to where it is needed.

Finding the path to our energy future is going to take a new level of partnership between utilities and their customers. Our shared goal is to ensure the region a reliable supply of clean electricity at an affordable cost for decades to come. Now more than ever, our energy future is everybody's business.

Dick Adams of Portland is executive director of Pacific Northwest Utilities Conference Committee, an association of publicly and privately owned electric utilities and industrial customers of the Bonneville Power Administration.
Finding the Right Path to Our Energy Future
The Oregonian, October 26, 2009

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